Festival season feels sweet after a bitter two years
College festivals are back as the pandemic recedes and companies that run or supply them hope the worst is behind them.
“It’s amazing and fun for students like me to have college festivals open to us again,” said Mr. Lim, 25, a college student. “But I wonder what the companies that host festivals have been doing for the past two years.”
For the past couple of years, university campuses have been gloomy in May, the festival season. Companies that lost businesses during the pandemic are hoping to recover.
“The industry was on the verge of death because of Covid-19,” said Lee Jae-won, 40, CEO of a company that plans festivals for universities and local governments. “Our sales of 1 billion won in 2019 fell to 12 million won in 2020. The industry was shattered.”
“Many employees left, and I had to deliver our merchandise myself,” said a CEO of a company that makes and leases tents and outdoor tables used for festivals. “If a business didn’t answer the phone, I assumed they went bankrupt. Our company suffered debts of 100 million won every year.”
Repeated loosening and restoring of social distancing measures were a kind of torture for these companies.
“If social distancing seemed to be getting looser, people would talk about preparing for events or performances, but then they would get canceled again,” said Yoon Young-san, 51, a CEO of a festival company who has been in the business for over 20 years. “Our company saw its first losses in 2020. The loss was about 4 billion won.”
Festival companies tried to move events online. “Last year, many companies tried to keep afloat by switching to online events,” said an industry insider. “There was a lot of trial and error in preparing the camera equipment and broadcasting events for the first time.”
Government support is needed to recover from the pandemic, people say. “There are many companies that have closed altogether because of Covid-19,” said Kim Han-seok, president of the Korea Event Industry Cooperative Association. “And many others have had to let go of almost all of their staff and only the CEOs are holding on to their businesses.”
“Companies with sales of more than 3 billion won were not compensated for their losses even if they had debts over hundreds of millions,” Kim continued.
Festival companies are also worried about a new pandemic wave in the autumn. “I wish the government would find a way to hold festivals, even if it was only for those who have been vaccinated or those wearing masks,” said Kang Ji-cheol, 54, CEO of a company that organizes graduation ceremonies and other college events. “I hope the government will think about how to hold events when similar diseases spread.”
The Yoon Suk-yeol government is offering pandemic compensation of six million won to eight million won to small and medium-sized businesses with sales between one and three billion won. But companies in 50 industries, including the performance and exhibition industry, in which annual sales have decreased by more than 40 percent due to social distancing restrictions are classified as “upgrade support industries” and are eligible for up to 10 million won.
“We are working hard to pay as much as possible to compensate for losses to companies that have been damaged during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said an official from the Ministry of SMEs and Startups. “We made it possible to apply for loss compensation if the conditions for payment are met even in any of the three years of 2019, 2020 and 2021.”
“Festival companies must have been hit hard by Covid-19,” said Kim Tae-gi, an emeritus professor of economics at Dankook University. “Rather than stopping at one-time cash grants, we need to help these companies recover their competitiveness by establishing an active relief plan.”
BY YANG SU-MIN [email@example.com]